December 18, 2010

Changing of the guard?

More news about: Mount Union | UW-Whitewater
Steve McCollom forced a fumble and intercepted a pass for UW-Whitewater.

By Keith McMillan
D3football.com

SALEM, Va. – UW-Whitewater’s victory in Stagg Bowl XXXVIII on Saturday evened the series of six championship meetings in a row against Mount Union at three titles each, but with three in the past four seasons it ushered in a new era in Division III: that of the Warhawks’ dominance.

With 30 consecutive victories and back-to-back national titles, there’s a new undisputed king of non-scholarship football. Mount Union, tied or within a field goal in the fourth quarter of all three losses to the Warhawks, is still seated next to the throne, with the rest of the division on a lower tier. But a program whose foundation was laid by Bob Berezowitz before he passed off the coaching duties to Lance Leipold, who improved to 57-3 in four seasons, now graduates a senior class that has known more seasons to end with championships than without.

In 2005 and ’06, before this year’s seniors were Warhawks, UW-Whitewater had reached the pinnacle only to be sent back to Wisconsin scratching their heads. Mount Union led 28-7 on the way to a 35-28 win in ’05. In 2006, the Purple Raiders outscored the Warhawks 21-3 in the second half of a 35-16 win. The Warhawks could see the apex, but couldn’t quite reach it.

“Until you win one, you really can’t walk tall,” said Warhawks cornerback Matt McCulloch, who had two interceptions in his final collegiate game. “It’s wasn’t until we won in ’07 that we realized ‘Wow, they are human. They can be beat.’ ”

Every season, 30 other teams join the Warhawks and Purple Raiders in the postseason. And there are myriad reasons – from depth of program, to coaching to raw talent to extra weeks of practice from previous Stagg Bowl runs – why the same two keep emerging. But getting over the mental hurdle was apparently part of the process.

“Ever since then, we come in with the sense we’re going to win the game,” McCulloch said.

Saturday started well – Whitewater led 10-0 early in the second quarter before turnovers started a 21-point Mount Union spurt. Down 11, the Warhawks never panicked, and figure they’d find a way to get back into the game. And not only did they get back in, they retook the lead before the half. Mount Union scored 21 in the second half but never crossed the goal line again.

The Warhawks are a nose-to-the-grindstone sort of program. Everything about them – from their ‘Pound the Rock’ mantra to their ‘one week at a time, never assume we’ll be back to Salem’ mentality says as much. Even their on-field style, sticking with the run and letting their offensive line wear teams down over the course of the game, is workmanlike.

Defensive tackle Luke Hibner, like McCulloch, spoke of looking up to the seniors from the ’07 team as role models. And even though Hibner said he’d have more hardware than those guys – “seventy-five percent of my seasons ended with a championship,” he realized aloud during the postgame news conference – those guys would always be the ones who, in his mind, set the standard.

“Without them, we wouldn’t have any of this,” he said.

Now, young Warhawks will look to Hibner’s class and consider them the torchbearers.

“I don’t want to be the senior class to not do well at Whitewater,” junior safety Steve McCollum said.

It’s a sentiment Mount Union players are familiar with. In Alliance, the week-before-Christmas trip to the Stagg Bowl is penciled in as part of the holiday season. Championships are expected, even though players say they never assume they’ll win. After going 10-4 in 14 trips to Salem, no one would blame the Purple Raiders for thinking championships are their birthright. With Larry Kehres (303-23-3) at the helm for 25 seasons, they’ve earned respect in all corners of the D-III world.

For the first time since Mount Union first won in Salem in 1993, a championship team was asked to consider whether it had surpassed the Purple Raiders as the new standard bearer.

“I’ll leave that for you to answer,” Leipold said.

Hibner joked that the Purple Raiders have almost as many trips to Salem as he is years old.

“They’ve been doing it for so long,” McCulloch said. “I don’t think we’re the team to beat every year like they are.”

Perhaps with a little time to reflect, McCulloch will change his perspective. After all, it's been six consecutive seasons with the Warhawks in the top two. The past two years, a late Levell Coppage run capped a 15-0 campaign.

Before the rest of the division gives up on scaling the new mount, remember that one superb Whitewater senior class gave the current Warhawks the belief they could be kings of the hill. And at the moment, they are. The journey of a thousand miles – interpreted differently based on how far away from the apex the other 223 playoff-participating schools are – begins with one step.

Along the road to Salem, the Warhawks and Purple Raiders often stress that getting back is never guaranteed. And as Mount Union learned, getting back even with a score to settle and a chip on the shoulder doesn’t necessarily lead to victory. But it certainly lights the fire which will burn throughout the offseason and fuel the attempt to reach the top.

Asked if losing three of the past four Stagg Bowls means UW-Whitewater has surpassed Mount Union as the team which others are judged by, Kehres replied with a wink and a smile. “They’re kind of ticking me off. I might have to come back and win three of the next four.”

Sep. 1: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Coast Guard at Anna Maria
7:00 PM
Defiance at Baldwin Wallace
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Johns Hopkins
7:30 PM
Trine at Manchester
8:00 PM
Millsaps at Belhaven
Sep. 2: All times Eastern
TBA
Muhlenberg at Wilkes
6:00 PM
Mass-Dartmouth at Mount Ida
6:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Wesley
7:00 PM
N.C. Wesleyan at Stevenson
7:00 PM
Western New England at Springfield
7:00 PM
Fitchburg State at Becker
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Albright at Salisbury
7:00 PM
WPI at MIT
7:00 PM
Salve Regina at Worcester State
7:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Curry
7:00 PM
Morrisville State at St. Lawrence
10:00 PM
Adrian at Pacific
Sep. 3: All times Eastern
TBA
Endicott at Framingham State
TBA
Kean at Christopher Newport
TBA
King's at Moravian
Live Stats
TBA
Lebanon Valley at Franklin and Marshall
TBA
Marietta at Denison
TBA
McDaniel at Catholic
TBA
Wisconsin Lutheran at Trinity Int'l
TBA
Sewanee at Kenyon
TBA
UW-Platteville at George Fox
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Washington U. at Carnegie Mellon
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Chicago at Case Western Reserve
12:00 PM
Husson at Alfred
12:00 PM
SUNY-Maritime at Maine Maritime
Video
12:00 PM
Cortland at Heidelberg
12:00 PM
Otterbein at Buffalo State
12:00 PM
Ursinus at Bethany
1:00 PM
Plymouth State at Castleton
Live Stats
1:00 PM
RPI at Norwich
1:00 PM
Randolph-Macon at Dickinson
1:00 PM
Oberlin at Kalamazoo
1:00 PM
Emory and Henry at Ferrum
1:00 PM
Wooster at Washington and Jefferson
1:00 PM
Alfred State at William Paterson
1:00 PM
St. Vincent at Alma
1:00 PM
Concordia (Wis.) at Finlandia
1:00 PM
Olivet at St. John Fisher
1:00 PM
Rowan at Widener
1:00 PM
Hobart at Brockport
1:00 PM
Union at Ithaca
1:00 PM
Susquehanna at Lycoming
1:00 PM
Utica at Misericordia
1:00 PM
TCNJ at UW-Whitewater
1:30 PM
Wilmington at Bluffton
1:30 PM
Monmouth at Hope
1:30 PM
Bridgewater at Gettysburg
1:30 PM
Muskingum at Waynesburg
1:30 PM
Juniata at Grove City
2:00 PM
Lakeland at Carroll
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-Stevens Point at St. Norbert
2:00 PM
Austin at Hendrix
2:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Martin Luther
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Millikin at Greenville
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Eureka at Knox
Live Stats
2:00 PM
MacMurray at Rockford
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Gustavus Adolphus at Westminster (Mo.)
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-La Crosse at Luther
2:00 PM
Beloit at Lake Forest
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Jamestown
2:00 PM
Crown at Hamline
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Carleton at Macalester
2:00 PM
Bethel at Dubuque
2:00 PM
St. Scholastica at St. John's
Live Stats
2:00 PM
St. Olaf at Grinnell
2:00 PM
Buena Vista at Mayville St.
2:00 PM
Simpson at UW-Stout
2:00 PM
Aurora at Carthage
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at Coe
2:00 PM
Ripon at Concordia-Chicago
2:00 PM
Elmhurst at Loras
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
2:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at Robert Morris-Chicago
2:00 PM
Benedictine at Wheaton (Ill.)
2:00 PM
John Carroll at UW-Oshkosh
2:30 PM
Southern Virginia at Earlham
Live Stats
4:00 PM
La Verne at Puget Sound
Live Stats
4:00 PM
Central at Whitworth
5:00 PM
Hartwick at Western Connecticut
6:00 PM
Wabash at Albion
6:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at Berry
6:00 PM
Augustana at Mount St. Joseph
6:00 PM
Thomas More at Franklin
Live Stats
6:00 PM
Hampden-Sydney at Averett
6:00 PM
Redlands at Trinity (Texas)
7:00 PM
Hiram at Westminster (Pa.)
7:00 PM
LaGrange at Birmingham-Southern
7:00 PM
Thiel at Allegheny
7:00 PM
Capital at Wittenberg
7:00 PM
Shenandoah at Gallaudet
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Illinois College at Rose-Hulman
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Hanover at Centre
7:00 PM
Geneva at Frostburg State
7:00 PM
Nichols at Westfield State
7:00 PM
Greensboro at Guilford
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
7:00 PM
Anderson at North Park
7:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Mary Hardin-Baylor
7:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran
7:10 PM
St. Thomas at UW-Eau Claire
Video Live Stats
8:00 PM
Willamette at Rhodes
8:00 PM
Cornell at Iowa Wesleyan
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Augsburg at Northwestern (Minn.)
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Southwestern Assemblies at Howard Payne
8:00 PM
Sul Ross State at UT-Permian Basin
Dec. 18: All times Eastern
Final
Mount Union 49, at St. Thomas 35
@ Salem, Va.
Box Score Recap Recap Photos